New York Daily News

January 10, 2006

Actor & Pal Face Finest

Blues Pack Cop-Slay Hearing


A sea of cops confronted "Sopranos" actor Lillo Brancato and his ex-con pal in a Bronx courtroom overflowing with blue uniforms and emotion yesterday as the duo was arraigned in the slaying of Officer Daniel Enchautegui.

"They took a little piece of all of our hearts when they took Dan," said Officer Greg Kavanagh, 34, who worked with Enchautegui for several years. "It was like losing a best friend."

More than 100 cops gave a thunderous welcome when Enchautegui's father, Pedro, who uses a wheelchair, and the cop's mom, Maria, entered the courtroom.

"More than anything, we want to show support for the family," said Officer Jason La Fond, 26, who taped a picture of the slain cop inside his hat.

Brancato, 29, who got his start in Robert De Niro's "A Bronx Tale," and his buddy Steven Armento, 48, pleaded not guilty to killing the hero cop during a botched burglary.

They are charged with the shooting death of the off-duty cop, who caught them trying to break into his neighbor's house on Dec. 10.

Mortally wounded with a bullet in the heart, Enchautegui managed to unload his gun, hitting Armento six times and Brancato twice.

Brancato is charged with second-degree murder, while Armento, the alleged triggerman, faces a first-degree murder count.

Armento, whose daughter once dated Brancato, snapped "not guilty" before the clerk finished reading the charges.

Brancato's parents, armed with a box of tissues to dab their tears, insisted their son was no cop killer.

"My son is a good boy . . . he is not guilty," said mom Domenica Brancato, adding that her heart was broken "in pieces."

Defense lawyer Mel Sachs said Brancato never knew Armento had a gun, and said he would demand that the troubled young actor be tried separately.

"Lillo Brancato is not a murderer," Sachs said. "Lillo Brancato did not have a weapon and did not know there was a weapon."

Police union boss Pat Lynch and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrin urged potential jurors not to be wowed by Brancato's celebrity status.

"Lillo Brancato is not a cutie-pie celebrity," Carrin said. "He was party to the murder of a New York City police officer."